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Updated 06 June 2013

Mind control moves model helicopter

People wearing special electrodes were able to control a model helicopter by their thoughts alone, giving hope to research into paralysis.

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Scientists say five people wearing special electrodes were able to control a model helicopter by their thoughts alone.

The team say the achievement is an important step forward in efforts to develop robotic devices that could help people who are paralysed or have neurodegenerative disorders.

Each of the people in a new study was able to use their thoughts to control the four-blade helicopter quickly and accurately for a sustained amount of time as it flew through a series of hoops around a college gymnasium.

Brain activity recorded

Participants controlled the helicopter while wearing a cap containing 64 electrodes that recorded the brain's electrical activity. They sat in front of a screen that displayed video from a camera on the helicopter, enabling them to see the helicopter's direction of travel. Their brain activity was relayed to the helicopter over Wi-Fi.

The three women and two men were told to imagine using their right hand, left hand and both hands together to instruct the helicopter to turn right, left, lift and then fall, respectively. They underwent several training sessions before being asked to fly the helicopter through two rings suspended from the gymnasium ceiling, according to the study in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

"Our study shows that for the first time, humans are able to control the flight of flying robots using just their thoughts, sensed from noninvasive brain waves," study lead author Bin He, a professor with the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, said in a journal news release.

"Our next goal is to control robotic arms using noninvasive brain wave signals, with the eventual goal of developing brain-computer interfaces that aid patients with disabilities or neurodegenerative disorders," He said.

More information

The Family Center on Technology and Disability has more about assistive technology.

 
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